JPT Area final report and photos: ‘Wembley, Wembley, we’re the famous Peterborough United and we’re off to Wembley.’ That’s a song with a pleasant ring to it, even on a damp night in less-than-salubrious Swindon.
It certainly made a change from the usual moans and groans heard after a Posh match this season, although those whinges would still have been deafening, but for a dramatic finish to a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Area Final that had been desperately low on quality.
Posh didn’t play at all well and yet London Road will be a joyous place for a few days thanks to a 24th goal of the season from Britt Assombalonga and four players holding their nerve amid the gut-wrenching tension of a penalty shoot-out.
These spot-kick competitions can be hilarious when Manchester United are involved, but when it’s your own team needing to stay calm and focussed in order to win a relatively huge prize, the knots in the stomach tighten at the same rate as the bowels loosen. There must have been more than a few worried about chairman Darragh MacAnthony. a man who kicks every ball, and his health in the Sky TV studios as the late drama unfolded.
Fortunately for the boss his men showed what their manager correctly described as ‘bottle’. Take a bow Assombalonga, Michael Bostwick, Grant McCann and, particularly, skipper Tommy Rowe, who despatched the decisive spot-kick, for surviving the long, slow walk into a muddy goalmouth knowing that TV would be showing any howling misses late into the night and beyond.
Danny Swanson saw his penalty saved, but he had the consolation of being one of the better players on show. There was no such sympathy for Swindon’s Massimo Luongo and Tijane Reis who missed the target so badly, their balls have yet to be found.
It was such a dramatic end there is now a school of thought that all ties in this competition should be settled immediately by a shoot-out. Certainly the previous 90 minutes will not linger long in the memory.
Swindon were the better side in the first-half and deservedly led at the interval through a goal from Alex Pritchard, but they made a fatal error of defending what they had rather than seeking out a second goal that would have sent them to Wembley.
Posh had passed the ball poorly before the break, but manager Darren Ferguson made a tactical switch to three at the back and introduced Grant McCann and his pleasing habits of a) attempting to pass the ball forward and b) finding one of his team-mates with such a pass.
It was a timely intervention from Ferguson who wouldn’t have wanted to join the select band of bosses outsmarted by Mark Cooper. His reward arrived 15 minutes from time as Craig Alcock harried Swindon into an error which enabled Michael Bostwick to chip a delightful centre onto the head of Assombalonga who made no mistake with his head from close range.
Assombalonga has missed a presentable headed chance in the opening moments from an Alcock cross, but that was a rare moment of first-half respite for the latter who had suffered badly at the hands of Pritchard.
Cooper deployed a 3-5-2 system which allowed Pritchard to run at the Posh defence from deep. He beat men to find space easily, but Swindon suffered from the absence of star striker Nile Ranger.
Pritchard’s 33rd minute goal arrived thanks to a touch of good fortune and huge dollop of bad defensive play. Luongo accepted a short throw-in and breezed past Swanson and Mark Little before crossing low and hard, but straight to Alcock who promptly smashed his clearance straight at N’Guessan and into the path of Pritchard who fired home from close range.
Swindon were roared off by their partisan fans at the interval, but the players returned with a whimper and retreated into their shells once N’Guessan had missed a great chance to make it 2-0 following hesitation from Nathaniel Knight-Percival. Olejnik looked to have deflected N’Guessan’s shot onto the outside of the post, but a goal-kick was awarded - no surprise there as referee Keith Stroud had early in the game applied Howard Webb’s law on potential penalty kicks by failing to punish Alcock’s clumsy collision with N’Guessan.
MacAnthony, showing a level of honesty Premier League managers should adopt, admitted it should have been a penalty and maybe even a red card. It won’t be decision detaining too many Posh minds this morning.
No, they will instead be dreaming of putting on a show at Wembley, while the more pragmatic of us will be hoping that the confidence-boost of a chance to win a giant (size-wise at least) trophy will also lead to some decent League One form.
In an ideal world this Wembley trip will be a mere dress rehearsal for a far more important visit on May.
Posh; Bobby Olejnik, Mark Little, Craig Alcock, Shaun Brisley, Nathaniel Knight-Percival, Jack Payne (sub Grant McCann, 60 mins), Michael Bostwick, Danny Swanson, Tommy Rowe, Kyle Vassell (sub Josh McQuoid, 46 mins), Britt Assombalonga. Unused substitutes; Joe Day, Jermaine Anderson, Joe Newell.
Swindon: Wes Foderingham, Raphael Branco, Troy Archibald-Henville, Darren Ward, Nathan Byrne, Louis Thompson, Massimo Luongo, Yaser Kasim, Alex Pritchard, Jacob Murphy (sub Tijane Reis 85 mins), Dany N’Guessen (sub Ben Gladwin, 80 mins). Unused substitutes: Tyrell Belford, Jack Barthram, Ryan Harley.
Goals: Posh - Assombalonga (75 mins)
Swindon - Pritchard (33 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Bostwick (foul), Swanson (foul).
Swindon - Kasim (foul), Branco (foul).
Referee: Keith Stroud 6.
Attendance: 6,825 (383 Posh).
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